News Archives


WNCC Graduate Earns Congressional Award Gold Medal - U.S. Congress' Highest Honor for Youth Civilians

February 08, 2017

WNCC graduate Ethan NelsonWestern Nebraska Community College graduate and current University of Pennsylvania Sophomore Ethan Nelson has been named a recipient of a Congressional Award Gold Medal, the highest award for young people presented by the United States Congress. The Congressional Award Program is non-partisan, voluntary, and non-competitive, honoring young Americans across the nation.

Nelson, son of Gene and Ellen Nelson of Dalton, Nebraska, registered for the Congressional Award Program in 2010 as part of his home school curriculum. Participants earn certificates and medals by setting and reaching goals in four program areas: volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration.

Nelson achieved his public service goals by promoting entrepreneurship to youth through his business, Nelsonart√£, combatting hunger through the Table of Grace Food Pantry, providing music outreach to nursing homes as well as the Western Nebraska Veterans Home with saxophone performance, and by being a Jr. Friend Volunteer of the Sidney Nebraska Public Library. Nelson was also a member of the Greater Nebraska Workforce Initiative Youth Advisory Council, 4H, and generationOn Points of Light Foundation.

Nelson's personal development goals were met through participation and advancement in a variety of activities including saxophone performance. He completed his physical fitness goals through the Cheyenne County Community Center 5K Run program and through the Scottsbluff Nebraska YMCA. To meet his expedition and exploration goals, he traveled 3,255 miles solo from Dalton, Nebraska to Anchorage, Alaska via the Alaska Highway, a.k.a. the Alcan, which was constructed during World War II to connect the contiguous United States to Alaska across Canada.

Nelson, who credits WNCC in helping him achieve this prestigious award, will be presented his award at the Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington, D.C. in June 2017. 

"Western Nebraska Community College has a great sense of community," said Nelson. "Becoming involved through the clubs, organizations, or honor societies sponsored by WNCC and participating in community service projects helped me find and share a role as one of the many young people interested in public service and helping others."

Nelson, who completed his home schooling at his residence in Dalton, enrolled in dual-credit courses at WNCC when he was 15 and became a full-time student at age 17. He graduated with an Associate of Science degree from WNCC in 2015. His other notable awards and achievements include: The QuestBridge College Match Scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, 2015 Coca Cola New Century Scholar, 2015 Horatio Alger/AK-SAR-BEN Scholar, 2014 4H Diamond Clover Award, and was a 2014 NASA Space Grant recipient. 

Nelson continues his public service through the University of Pennsylvania QuestBridge Mentoring Program.

For more information about WNCC's CollegeNOW! program, an educational option to earn transferable college credits while still enrolled in high school, contact CollegeNOW! Director Julie Newman at 308-635-6715 or email